A Timeline of Toilets

By Tim Lambert

Early Toilets

C 2,300 BC

At Skara Brae in Scotland stone huts have drains with cubicles over them. They may have been toilets.

C 2,000 BC

In Northwest India and Pakistan, towns are built with networks of sewers. Toilets are flushed with water.

C 1,800 BC

On Crete some toilets are flushed with water

C 1,200 BC

In Egypt, rich people use a container with sand, which is emptied by slaves.

C 100 AD

In Rome, sewers collect rainwater and sewage. There are public lavatories. The Romans have a goddess of sewers called Cloacina.

12th Century

At Portchester Castle monks built stone chutes leading to the sea. When the tide went in and out it flushed away the sewage.


In castles the toilet is a vertical shaft cut into the thickness of the walls with a stone seat on top.

14-15th centuries

Some towns in Medieval Europe have public toilets


Ordinary people often use the leaves of a plant called woolly mullein as toilet paper


People are forbidden to go in the courtyards of royal palaces


Sir John Harrington invents a flushing toilet but the idea fails to catch on. People continue to use cess pits, which are cleaned by men called gong farmers.

Modern Toilets


Alexander Cumming patents a flushing lavatory


Joseph Bramah makes a better design


Earth closets are popular. When you pull a lever granulated clay from a box covers the contents of the pan.


The first modern public lavatory opens


Toilet paper goes on sale in the USA. It is sold in sheets.


The vacant/engaged bolt is invented


The first pedestal toilet pan is made


Toilet paper on rolls goes on sale in the USA


John Nevil Maskelyne invents the coin operated lock for toilets


For the first time some houses for skilled workers are built with inside lavatories


Toilet paper on rolls goes on sale in Europe


Soft toilet paper goes on sale


The World Toilet Organisation is formed